Rights in the Western Hemisphere of IPPF

The WHR has two non grant-receiving MAs and 33 grant-receiving MAs in Latin America and the Caribbean. We have long adopted a rights-based approach, but we gave it a new impetus with the adoption of the IPPF Declaration on Sexual Rights and our new Regional Strategic Plan, where sexual rights and reproductive rights constitute one of our three strategic areas.

We address rights in two major ways. First, we make sure that the all the clinical and educational work of our MAs is provided in a way that is respectful of the rights of all our clients and users, regardless of their age, marital status, gender, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity. Second, our MAs  advocate – together with other civil society organizations - for holding our governments accountable for respecting, protecting and fulfilling the sexual  rights and the reproductive rights of all. Both of these approaches are represented in the 9 expected results of the strategic area of rights in our Regional Strategic Plan.

I will mention 2 of these expected results, because they are also part of the Accreditation process and the Global Indicators, which are applicable to all regions of IPPF. The first expected result is that all MAs will have disseminated the IPPF Declaration among all volunteers and staff. Actually, 22 of our MAs have already done so. Our largest MA, the one from Colombia, has more than 1000 employees, and all of them took an online course on the Declaration, developed by the MA. This course is now in the process of translation and adaptation for use of any MA that wishes to use it.

The second is that by the end of 2005 we will have at least 50 successful policy and legislative changes in support of SRHR to which the MAs have actively contributed.  In 2009, we had 11 successful national policy initiatives. Some of these address reproductive rights and others address sexual rights. For instance, both in Bolivia and Belize new laws grant adolescents the right to information and access to reproductive health services without needing to get approval from their parents and with the protection of their privacy.

These laws are important because adolescents have the highest rate of unmet need for contraceptives, not only in our region, but in most regions of the world. They are also the most vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections and to unwanted pregnancies. When a young woman becomes pregnant without wanting it, she usually confronts a tragic dilemma: she can either keep the pregnancy and have her whole life changed with her opportunities for education and work drastically curtailed, or she may interrupt the pregnancy, which is usually done in an unsafe way because in our region most countries still have very restricted laws. To avoid that millions of girls are put in such a situation, youth friendly services, comprehensive sexuality education are needed. But services and education will not be enough if we don’t promote the rights of young people.

Given that most societies have traditionally denied that young people are rights bearers or sexual beings, providers may not be professionally prepared to respect the rights of their adolescent clients. Equally or perhaps even more damaging is the other side of the coin: the feeling of lack of entitlement to education and services among youth. The lack of society’s recognition of their sexual rights and the absence of public policies to fulfill those rights, makes is inconceivable for most young people to know their rights, much less demand comprehensive sexually education and access the youth friendly services. Our clinics may stay empty or serve young women when it is already too late: after a pregnancy has taken place.  

The authorities in our region are now aware of the importance of promoting one of the most basics of the sexual rights highlighted in the IPPF Declaration on Sexual Rights: the right to comprehensive sexuality education. Despite intense pressure from religious conservative groups, 30 Health Ministers and 26 Education Ministers of Latin America and the Caribbean reached a consensus about the need to expand access to information and education on sexuality. In 2008 they signed the Declaration “Prevention though Education” committing to reduce by 75% the number of schools not providing comprehensive sexuality education by the year 2015.

IPPF  WHR and its MAs in seven countries are working in alliance with HIV organizations, women’s organizations, youth organizations, and other SRH organizations, to promote the implementation of this Declaration. IPPF WHR gave training in advocacy to MAs and their allies, prepared manuals for advocacy, and is giving technical assistance in evaluating and developing curricula, training teachers and evaluating progress made.

This work is of utmost importance because high rates of teenage pregnancy are common throughout Latin America, particularly among the most economically vulnerable. Just to allow some comparison:  in North Africa there are 31 births per 1000 young women between 15 and 19 years old. This is indeed quite high, but the rate in Latin America is even higher, actually more than double: 74. So, in Latin America and the Caribbean sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies are taking their toll on young people, leading to a downward spiral of poverty and further social exclusion.

In this context, the WHR is working with politicians and decision makers to ensure that laws and educational programs will give young people access to the information and education they need to have safe and pleasurable relationships when they begin their sexual lives.

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